The major selling point for The Drop as it geared for release over the past few months was that it’s the legendary James Gandolfini’s last film. It is, it was, but there’s a lot more to like in this tiny crime drama than just an appearance from one of the great character actors. Notably, it features the best use of a stunt dog in any film this year. And the Academy Award For Best Bulldog In A Supporting Role goes to…
Set in Brooklyn, The Drop only really has three main characters: Bob (Tom Hardy), Nadia (Noomi Rapace) and Marv (Gandolfini). That’s it. Just those guys. Bob is a seemingly ordinary barman, with a chivalrous yet shy manner. He lives alone, he goes to church every day and he can package the odd body part like Nigella Lawson. He works for his older cousin Marv, whose bar was taken over by ethnic mobsters some 10-years ago and never really recovered. An amateur robbery occurs at the nightspot, leading to a chain of events that throw the reserved Bob into the thick of it and dredge up questions about a long unsolved crime.
Hardy is in full bumbling and bashful mode a la Forrest Bondurant in Lawless. And what could appear as a one-tone performance on the surface actually becomes much more thanks to his skill as an actor and the steady character arc by the film’s conclusion. Rapace is perfectly suited to star opposite Hardy – who channels an ol’ school Hollywood toughness – as she too is someone who, despite the occasional blockbuster, has shown her strength in character roles. One of the few supporting roles is played by Matthias Schoenaerts who was superb in Rust And Bone and breaks type to play a slimy creep. Gandolfini knows what he likes and he likes what he knows. Starring as ‘Cousin Marv’ isn’t exactly a daring move or vastly different from what he has made a career doing, but he does it so damn well it matters little. Again, like most of the characters in the tale it’s the conclusion and its many twists that shows you just how clever the performances have been.
A large part of The Drop’s success comes from the pairing of director Michael R. Roskam and screenwriter Dennis Lehane. The combo work together like a well oiled machine, with Lehane crafting a crime tale as good as best work – which given that includes Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone is saying something. Roskam too is on point, knowing the exact ways to tease out the suspenseful moments in Lehane’s writing in a way that draws the audience along on the big screen. The story essentially has only three characters, which is an interesting juxtaposition to other films in this genre which usually have dozens. The two men make the most of this, spending time crafting and constructing each individual’s back story and quirks in a way that is meticulous and nuanced. They are experts at their craft and they slowly, almost subconsciously ramp up the tension in The Drop to a borderline unbearable point by the end payoff.
The Drop is a crime drama in a snow globe. It’s an unbelievably small, self-contained story set within a much larger and sinister universe. It’s a beautiful, tense thing to behold and a fitting film to bookend James Gandolfini’s career.
Maria Lewis – follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.